E-commerce company Threadless acquires shoe brand Bucketfeet
Founded in 2000, Threadless is an online retailer that sells T-shirts and other merchandise showcasing artist-submitted designs. The designs that get the most votes from the 3.2 million Threadless community members are printed onto T-shirts, bags, wall art and more.
Chicago-based Bucketfeet also offers custom designs, but with a focus on footwear. The company sells sneakers printed with designs submitted by its own network of artists, and earlier this year began producing shoes on demand, waiting until customers place an order to manufacture the pair and deliver it to them directly within 10 days.
Threadless will slowly integrate Bucketfeet into its website next year, according to Threadless co-founder and CEO Jake Nickell. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
“The thing that’s been really exciting for us is how Bucketfeet has been able to switch all their production from taking huge quantities of inventory … to a print-on-demand model,” Nickell said, adding that his company will not make any notable changes to Bucketfeet until next year.
“There are certain products that lend themselves to print-on-demand like keychains and mugs. We’re really trying to break that paradigm,” Nickell said. Printing on-demand allows a company to print more art and more products, he said.
“The printing technology has gotten to this point where it’s on par with screen printing in terms of quality and even price — the price is still a little bit off but it’s getting better,” he said.
Founded in 2011, Bucketfeet has a network of 40,000 artists in more than 120 countries who earn royalties for their unique designs.
Bucketfeet will close its three bricks-and-mortar stores — two in Chicago and one in Washington, D.C. — as a result of the merger, according to Bucketfeet co-founder Raaja Nemani.
“When we started the business, we got compared to Threadless quite a bit,” Nemani said. “None of the other of artist-driven e-commerce players out there, including Threadless, had yet figured out footwear, so I think it’s a perfect match.”
He said the Threadless platform gives Bucketfeet an opportunity to scale faster than before, both in the U.S. and globally.
Threadless pays out about $1.5 million annually to artists who have submitted winning designs and launched Artist Shops, which allow users to create their own online stores.
The company recently partnered with Bucketfeet to offer a limited collection of footwear featuring Threadless designs and available exclusively on Bucketfeet’s website.
“People don’t come to us for black shoes. They come to us for something unique,” Nemani said. “Now we get to tap into the massive artist community and artist shops platform that (Threadless) has built,” Nemani said. “I feel really lucky to partner with them and grow our baby even more.”
Aaron Firestein, chief artist and co-founder of Bucketfeet, said he met Nemani, a former investment banker, during a trip to Colombia in 2008.
“I told him about this shoe customizing hobby that I had and he bought a pair of shoes from me,” Firestein said. “When we started the business, we really wanted to keep the focus on the art that was being applied to the shoe and keep a pretty traditional silhouette that’s more comfortable and high quality than the standard slip-on.”
Firestein said he will pursue his own art and advise the company from an “artist awareness standpoint” from his new home in Bogota, Colombia. Nemani said he also will take on an advisory role.
“The artist world is so international these days and I think there is a really good opportunity no matter where you are in the world to get in front of the right people and introduce them to the brand,” Firestein said.